Happy Days at Hackney....By Jon Potter
Different generations rarely share the same tastes. That certainly applies to my father and I. He likes the Tremeloes and Felicity Kendall, I prefer Oasis and Cameron Diaz. We rarely agree on Speedway either.
For many years we were both regulars at Hackney's Waterden Road stadium. I paid my first visit in the early eighties and quite enjoyed my Friday nights watching the bikes go round. My dad was much more enthusiastic and could remember every detail, of every meeting, since the Sixties, or so it seemed. Who cared how many passes Bengt Jansson had made in the London Cup? I certainly didn't.
Things continued like this until the end of the 1983 season. He the loyal Hawks' fan, me little more than a casual observer. Events that winter changed this completely. Hackney Hawks closed down and in their place we had the Hackney Kestrels. They were in effect the old Crayford side and the team lined up in the National League. My dad wasn't impressed at all, he enjoyed watching 'his' side take on the World's best. The prospect of watching "juniors" race against "mobs like Berwick" held little attraction for the old fella.
I found the reality to be totally different. The bald head of Bo Petersen was gone and we now had the bleached locks of Andy Galvin. Galvin became a hero to many with his enthusiastic racing, his playboy looks also proving a big hit with the ladies. Paul Whittaker was another favourite of mine. He was only sixteen years old in that first season and I was sure he would one day be World Champion. It was a strange kind of hero-worship as he was only a couple of years older than me. I certainly found it easier to relate to this young side than the one it had replaced.
The rest of the side, wearing matches leathers, wasn't bad either. Trevor Banks was the efficient points gatherer, Alan Mogridge the entertainer and Barry Thomas combined both attributes. 'Thommo' was a great rider who really excelled on tight circuits. By then he was past his best but remained an excellent National League rider. His links with the 'old' Hackney made it easier for most of the Hackney fans to accept the team. My dad remained unconvinced, despite attending every week, and continually found fault where none really existed.
We got a major boost for the 1986 season when Malcolm Simmons moved from team manager to team member. He was no spring chicken but he quickly established himself as the top man in the league. He and Galvin formed a strong spearhead but the rest of the side wasn't strong enough to challenge for the title.
The club moved back into the British League for the 1987 season. My father immediately lobbied the promotion to snap up Bo Petersen and I was now scared of losing 'my' team. Thankfully my worst fears weren't realised and the changes were more evolutionary than revolutionary. Simmons and Galvin were retained and we signed Simon Wigg. Simon was cut from the same cloth as Galvin, a showman that could also do the business on the track. He was an excellent number one but the team lacked a genuine second heatleader. One bright spot in a poor season was the discovery of a 16 year old called Mark Loram. I was sure he would one day be World Champion, although I wasn't sure if he'd beat Paul Whittaker to the title.
The crowds weren't great and the team flopped so it was no real surprise when the club dropped back to the National League for '88. I wasn't that bothered. We lost Wiggy and Simmo retired but Galvin and Loram remained and we were able to recall Whittaker and Thomas. It looked a strong side and it certainly lived up to expectations.
That 1988 season was the one I've enjoyed most. The team started winning in March and was still winning in October. They were virtually unbeatable and convincingly won the league. My own personal highlight of that season came in August. It was then that my father traded in his 'Hawks' programme board for one with a Kestrel on it. It had taken five years but my father was now a Kestrels' fan.
Much of the success that season was due to the improvement of Loram and an amazing debut year from Chris Louis. Louis started the season at reserve but recorded an impressive eight point average. Loram hit the high scores from the off and has never looked back.
The promotion opened another track in 1989 and we lost Loram, Louis and Moggo. To compensate we signed Steve Schofield on loan from Poole. Schofield was a class act who should probably have been riding in the British League. Much the same could be said of Andy Galvin who was one of the very best riders in the league. Backup was provided by Paul Whittaker and Barry Thomas. Thomas' form fell away and he retired after a well deserved second testimonial meeting. Whittaker's progress had been disappointing and he didn't prove the strong third heatleader we hoped he would. The team finished in a respectable league position but couldn't retain the title.
There was very little change for the 1990 season. The Schofield/Galvin spearhead was retained but once again the lower order disappointed. We lost both riders before the 1991 season, Galvin moved on to Arena Essex and Poole recalled Schoie. Tony Olsson was signed but the side that took to the track was our weakest for years. The new promotion reverted to the old Hawks nickname, a move that annoyed as many as it pleased, and a new era seemed to be beginning.
Olsson proved a good signing and Paul Whittaker finally made the breakthrough to true heatleader class. By this stage even I had realised he was not going to be World Champion! However the loss of Galvin had affected crowds and by mid season the club was in financial trouble. A rumoured sponsorship, from Endsleigh Insurance, never materialised and the doors closed on Hackney Speedway.
The riders moved on, the fans found other things to do and a father and son mourned the loss of 'their' side.
This article was first published prior to October 2002
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